Friday, August 14, 2015

The Films of David Lynch: Shorts and Curiosities 2001-2004

After Mulholland Drive, Lynch was already moving away from feature films – using his website to unleash a series of shorts, series and experiments. No two lists of Lynch’s from here on out seem to be the same, but between IMDB, Wikipedia and Mubi, I think I have captured all (or most) of the work during this time. Let’s have a look. There’s a lot, so if something isn’t worth much time, I won’t devote much time to it.

Out Yonder – Neighbor Boy (2001)
Directed by: David Lynch.
Written by: David Lynch.
Starring: David Lynch, Austin Jack Lynch.

An odd black and white film, 10 minutes long, that has Lynch and his son, playing two characters sitting in lawn chairs in a backyard listening to a boom box, speaking in voices that sound like they have inhaled too much helium, saying a bunch of stuff that makes little sense – often revolving around “B” sounds. A shadow eventually sneaks up on them – a large man or monster of some sort that must be appeased. Out Yonder – Neighbor Boy is certainly weird, I’ll grant you that. But there’s not much else here. It isn’t really funny, it’s not very interesting, and Lynch’s camerawork in mainly stationary, and brightly lit. Sorry, I didn’t get much out of this one.

DumbLand (2002)
Directed by: David Lynch.
Written by: David Lynch.
Starring: David Lynch (All Voices).

This was the first “series” for Lynch’s website – consisting of six, five minute shorts that are really, really crudely drawn that tells a series of stories about a vulgar, violent man, his annoying son, his afterthought of a wife, and their vulgar, violent adventures. The visual look of the film is purposefully crude – the drawings are one step above stick figures, all in black, on a white background. Lynch does all the voices himself – and basically, they do sound like someone doing all the voices themselves. The stories are simple – and usually involve the father getting angry, swearing a lot, farting and people getting maimed or otherwise hurt.

You could probably read too much into DumbLand if you’re son inclined – that’s it’s the extension of Lynch’s view on suburbia – an issue he hadn’t really addressed since Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me a decade earlier, and how it’s only gotten worse, and people have become fat, lazy and vulgar. But that may be giving DumbLand too much credit. This is probably the easiest to understand of all of the shorts in this post, and also the easiest to dismiss. Had it been funny, perhaps it could have worked. But it’s rather dull and repetitive – seen one of these, you’ve seen them all, and I found them rather juvenile. That’s partly the point, I know, but it doesn’t really help.

Industrial Soundscape (2002)
Directed by: David Lynch.

With Industrial Soundscape, we’re back in Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times) territory. That, of course, was Lynch’s first film – a “motion painting” about precisely what the title implies. Well, the title of Industrial Soundscape pretty much tells you everything you need to know here as well – we get an industrial setting on a loop (and not a long one), with the droning soundtrack in the backroom also on a loop. There isn’t much here to talk about – and I have no idea why it runs 10 minutes (it could run 1 minute or days, the result is the same). But it’s not nothing – yes, it’s repetitive, and that is the point, but it’s also somewhat fascinating, and after a time hypnotic. I’m not saying it’s a good film – I’m not even going to say it is a film – but whatever the hell it is, it is something.

Darkened Room (2002)
Directed by: David Lynch.
Written by: David Lynch.
Starring: Jordan Ladd (Girl #1), Etsuko Shikata (Herself), Cerina Vincent (Girl #2).

The standalone short made in 2002 is entitled Darkened Room – and, yes, the majority of it does in fact take place in a darkened room. But before we get to that room, we meet Etsuko Shikata, playing herself, a resident of Tokyo, who shows us the view from her apartment, and telling us about how many bananas are eaten worldwide. She then tells us that her neighbor is sad –won`t someone help her neighbor. We then flash to that neighbor, played by Jordan Ladd, who is sitting in the darkened room of the title, with her makeup smeared, clearly in distress, as she begs the camera for someone to listen to her. A third woman will appear (Cerina Vincent), and says cruel things to Ladd, blames her for her own captivity before threatening to tell everyone the truth as the short ends.

First of all, let me admit I have no idea what the hell Etsuko Shikata is doing in this movie, or why she is necessary. She is intriguing and strange, but I also cannot help but feel that she`s rather pointless – a way to get us into that room that we really do not need.

But everything in that room, first with Ladd by herself – in silence, except for Angelo Badalamenti`s subtle score – is haunting, and mesmerizing. It`s hard not to think of Mulholland Drive when watching this film – the conflict between a beautiful blonde we feel sympathy for, and an equally beautiful brunette, who blames the blonde for everything is not that unlike the relationship between Diane and Camilla in that film. The two opposing women – the innocent blonde and the femme fatale brunette – also played out in Blue Velvet as well.

Lynch doesn’t explain anything here – he doesn’t need to in the short. It`s a haunting piece of work for a 10 minute film. No, it doesn’t really add anything new to the Lynch canon – but it`s fascinating just the same.

Rabbits (2002)
Directed by: David Lynch.
Written by: David Lynch.
Starring: Scott Coffey (Jack), Rebekah Del Rio (Jane), Laura Elena Harring (Jane), Naomi Watts (Suzie).

If you’ve seen Inland Empire, you already know all about Rabbits – as Lynch cuts to this surreal sitcom, with a family of rabbits speaking in non-sequitors in a room, while a laugh track brays in the background, and sometimes, something demonic happens – through that film. He got that from this series of 8 shorts he did back in 2002 – running approximately 50 minutes in total. Like in Inland Empire, there is no denying that Rabbits is haunting, disturbing and surreal. The rabbits are not saying anything of value – anything really at all – but in the way Lynch shoots it, with his unmoving camera, lights it – very dark – and especially the tone of the actors, and the pacing – monotone, with large gaps of silence between lines – the whole thing plays like a surreal nightmare. It’s all ridiculous of course – actors wearing rabbit heads, and human clothes always are – but it is in keeping with Lynch traditions. As part of Inland Empire, Rabbits is great. On their own, they are less effective – simply because there is too much of them. All of the shorts are basically the same, they never add up to anything greater than the sum of their parts, and eventually you just want it to be over. I know that at least initially, it was not meant to be watched all at once – but it is now, so although I think there is brilliance in this series, it’s at least twice as long (perhaps three times) as it needs to be, which dims its effectiveness.

Lamp (2003)
Directed by: David Lynch.

Do you want to spend 30 minutes with David Lynch as he makes a lamp? If so, then do I have a movie for you! Yes, Lamp really is just Lynch making a lamp – well, in truth, the lamp is already made, he’s just mixing painting and plaster to put the finishing touches on the lamp. Do you want to see this? Yes, you do. I admit for the first 10 minutes or so, I was wondering what the hell was happening, and why Lynch felt the need to make and share this. Then, I decided to just go with the flow – and found I enjoyed myself. Lynch is a weird guy – even when he’s doing something like this. He mixes the paint, and explains how, he talks about his coffee, his faucet, and other things. It’s all so normal, which somehow makes it weirder. No, Lamp is not a masterpiece or anything – and I’m still not sure why Lynch made and released this. But I will admit this – I had a lot of fun watching Lynch make a lamp.

Intervalometer Experiments (2004)
Directed by: David Lynch.

If you do not know what an Intervalometer is – and no worries, I had no idea – it’s basically a device counts intervals of time, and will signal a device to operate at set points. In Lynch’s case, he uses it to photograph some steps over what appears to be a day, as slowly the shadow of a tree comes out from the side of the frame, and will eventually cover the entire staircase in shadows, before receding again. So basically, it’s time lapse photography. It’s a good example of time lapse photography – and it doesn’t run very long (4 minutes or so) – so it’s not a huge time waster. But like Industrial Soundscape, it’s not really a film. It’s something though – although I’m not sure why Lynch felt the need to share his experiment.

Bug Crawls (2004)
Directed by: David Lynch.

One of the great things I am realizing about these shorts is how accurately they are named –no one could ever accuse Lynch of false advertising in coming up with these titles. So Bug Crawls is precisely that – a bug crawling. But this isn’t a normal big – and he’s not crawling over normal terrain. The bug seems huge in comparison to what it is crawling over – a black house in what looks like some sort of post-apocalyptic hellscape. He crawls up onto the roof, and then falls over, landing on his back and not being able to get up. The camera pans over (and this is not a short with much camera movement) to the house, where the door opens – sounds come out, but what’s there, we don’t know. Yes, this seems like another Lynch experiment, like many of the other ones here. But this one is more effective and nightmarish – but more Lynch-ian and haunting. I’m not going to make the case that it’s great – but it’s more interesting than his other experiments of this period.

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